Cabinet withdraws ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers

The union cabinet on Wednesday decided to withdraw the controversial ordinance to protect convicted legislators from immediate disqualification.

Parliament of IndiaThe ordinance was meant to nullify a Supreme Court ruling that convicted MPs and state legislators to forfeit their seats immediately, even if they have appeals pending in higher courts.

But last week, Congress vice president and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi publicly denounced the ordinance as ''total nonsense'', forcing the government to rethink the widely criticised move (See: Rahul Gandhi joins chorus against ordinance to save convicted lawmakers).

The reversal of policy was cleared at a short 20-minute cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The decision was unanimous approved by all cabinet members, union minister Manish Tewari told the media.

"There was a view articulated by Rahul Gandhi and he was taking into account the widest possible feedback. Therefore the decision was reconsidered," the minister said.

The withdrawal of the ordinance came as no surprise; it was doomed as soon as the all-powerful Gandhi made his views public.

The Congress vice-president met the prime minister on Wednesday morning and reportedly was contrite about going public with his censure at a time when Singh was in the US.

However, he reiterated his staunch opposition to the ordinance.

It is also reported that shortly before the cabinet meeting, attorney general  Goolam Vahanvati met Prime Minister Singh and stressed that without the constitutional amendments, the ordinance could be challenged in court.

The government statement announcing the withdrawal of the ordinance hinted at this: ''Having regard to various concerns, which have been expressed in relation to the validity and advisability of the proposed Ordinance seeking to amend the Representation of People's Act, the Cabinet has decided to withdraw the proposal for promulgating the Ordinance as well as the Bill.''

Ravi Shankar Prasad of the Bharatiya Janata Party described Wednesday's developments as "the theatre of the absurd." He said, "This confirms what the BJP has been saying. That the PM and cabinet are not important. The dynasty is."

Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj in a tweet claimed credit for the withdrawal of the ordinance. "We said the ordinance was immoral, illegal and unconstitutional. What Congress is spreading since morning is complete falsehood," she tweeted.